Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club from 1959 to 1974, is often quoted as having said : “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more important than that”. As a lover of the beautiful game (and long time Liverpool fan myself), I completely understand the sentiment behind this. But I can’t help feeling that even Shankly would be reconsidering and re-evaluating the relative importance of football, life and death in the context of the current conversations about plans to re-start the English Premier League. It seems somehow insensitive to be talking about football returning when UK deaths still exceed 500 a day and the total death total is now over 35,000. And if that seems somewhat removed from the world of football, it has been revealed today that there were six positive tests of players and staff at three premier league clubs from the first two days of testing this weekend.
Football is undoubtedly big business. Titles, promotion, cup wins : these are all important things and have potentially lucrative implications for the teams involved. Liverpool themselves were on the verge of clinching the premier league title when coronavirus brought an abrupt halt to the season in mid-March. It would be cruel for a team that was so dominant to be denied the title by something that is so out of their control. But – despite what Shankly may have said – at the end of the day, football is just a game. It would seem odd for matches to be re-starting (even behind closed doors and with teams having been quarantined for several weeks beforehand) when so many are still literally facing life and death struggles to survive.
Football will return eventually – with passionate fans contributing to the atmosphere that makes each game unique. There’s no rush for that to happen though, and it’s certainly not something that should be risking the welfare of players and staff in the meantime.